Column
Political Turmoil in Bangladesh

21 Mar 2015

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The total number of people killed in the ongoing blockade and hartal, being enforced by the BNP-led opposition alliance since January 6 this year, had mounted to 140, with 66 having been victims of petrol bomb attack.

 Some more may have been added to the tally since then and there is no hope that the political turmoil will come to an end or tragic march of death will come down in the weeks ahead. At a press conference in Dhaka on March 13, BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia expressed her resolve to continue with ‘non-stop’ blockades and hartal to realize her objective of unseating the government at any cost.

 

After failing to gain any public sympathy or support to their call for blockade and hartal, BNP is terrorizing the people through arson attacks, vandalism and indiscriminate killings. The government has deployed law enforcement agencies to safeguard public life and properties.

 

Prime Minster Sheikh Hasina told the parliament on February 25 that the ongoing blockade and hartal has resulted in a loss of over Tk 1.2 trillion (nearly $ 15.5 billion). Federation of Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry has estimated that the ongoing blockade is costing the national exchequer a loss between TK 1500 crore to Tk 2000 crore daily. Economically a key sector like ready-made garment sector is incurring a loss of Tk 843 crore daily. Transport sector is losing an estimated Tk 300 crore daily, agriculture Tk 280 crore daily, real estate Tk 250 crore and tourism Tk 200 crore daily.

 

Economically, Bangladesh progressed steadily under Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League regime since 2008-09. Foreign exchange reserves which in January 2007 stood at US $ 3.74 billion, went up to US $ 5.8 billion in 2008, and according to official statistics provided by the Bank of Bangladesh, it crossed US $ 12 billion mark in 2011. Moreover, under the ruling dispensation, dependence on foreign aid and imports has been declining. Labour-intensive agriculture sector also achieved steady increase in food grain production. Textile industry which includes knitwear and ready-made garments and other specialized textile products is Bangladesh’s number one export earner, accounting for US $ 21.5 billion in 2013 or 80% of Bangladesh’s total export of US $ 27 billion.

 

All significant achievements of the present government are now in danger of being nullified.

 

Any objective assessment will show up that the so-called political movement launched by BNP is not inspired by anything noble except their limited political objectives - mainly forcing the government to step down. After such a stepping down by the incumbents they would fish in troubled waters to manipulate their own return to power.

 

Next in their calculations, the moment the present government falls, the way would be wide open for them to get their leader Khaleda Zia off the hook by withdrawing corruption cases against her. The same would be done with regard to her fugitive son Tarique Rahman. Besides, the exit from power by the present government would enable the BNP to free from jail all leaders of their fundamentalist and pro-Pak ally Jamaat, now convicted of war crimes in 1971. 

 

What has prompted BNP to unleash this anarchy and chaos which has resulted only in death, destruction of property and economic downslide of the country? Is this any political or democratic movement?

 

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina won re-election to a second consecutive five-year term in 2014. Khaleda Zia’s BNP boycotted the poll saying the poll result would be rigged. Since then BNP has been demanding fresh polls under a neutral caretaker government, calling the present government ‘illegal’. The government, however, is firm in its decision that the next election will be held in 2019 when it is due and not before that.

 

After assuming office in 2014, the Sheikh Hasina government earned significant success in diplomacy, wooing foreign investment, starting construction of Padma Bridge and holding trial of the war criminals of 1971. Sheikh Hasina held the steer firmly to restore peace under a serious threat over the mayhem created by BNP and its allies. Much to the satisfaction of people, the country witnessed several verdicts on war criminals such as Jamaat leaders Abdul Quader Molla, Matiur Rahman Nizami, Mujahid, Kamruzzaman and Mir Quasem Ali. More such verdicts are likely to be announced shortly.

 

There are reasons to support Sheikh Hasina and her government’s policies. Her steadfastness against communal forces, her focused attention to bring about development in the country, her government’s success in agriculture, education, women empowerment and maintaining a steady economic growth opens up genuine scope for public support behind her government. The year 2014 came to an end on a high note for the government employees with implementation of pay commission report recommending higher pay and allowances. The government also celebrated its highly creditable success in distributing more than 32 crore free text books among school children across the country.

 

BNP and its allies have so far not presented any economic agenda or road map to improve the social and economic condition of the country. Their only concern appears to be focused on how to capture power by letting loose the destabilizing forces to unseat the government. They are very vocal about democracy; but how they upheld democratic principles when they were in power is known to all.

 

Khaleda Zia’s charges against the Awami League-led Government are also intended to create barriers against the trial of her long term allies – the war criminals of 1971. She has been a long-time political supporter and well wisher of the war criminals and Pakistani collaborators with whom she had earlier shared power. During her tenure as Prime Minister she did everything possible to thwart any move for trial of either the killers of Bangladesh’s founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman or the pro-Pak Islamists who opposed the liberation in 1971.

 

Now she cannot openly defend the anti-liberation forces for fear of antagonizing the people who want to see the war criminals, anti-liberation elements and Pakistani collaborators brought to justice. The nation is not short sighted or the visions of the people are not so blurred. Khaleda Zia must realize that ground is fast moving from behind her feet. She must re-evaluate her position. Her mission to burn and kill innocent people in the name of blockade and hartal has already cost her dearly.

 

Unless BNP comes out with a better governance plan and severs all links with pro-Pak and anti-liberation forces, the people will have no reason to be swayed by their crocodile’s tears for democracy.

 

BNP did never have a clean past and its association with anti-liberation and pro-Pak forces allowed the radical and extremist forces to rise and create instability and communal disharmony in the country.

 

On the other hand, ever since its formation in 1949, the Awami League has remained the most credible vanguard of secular-linguistic politics in Bangladesh. The party, despite all its inadequacies and shortcomings, has contributed to making Bangladesh a relatively liberal Muslim majority State with reasonably acceptable democratic credentials. The party still commands the widest popular support base in the country, even though in the major power structures of the State, like the armed forces, media and business, its penetration has remained limited. Legacy of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman confers a unique symbolic identity to the party, which is credited with the very creation of Bangladesh.

 
 
Compared to previous BNP-Jamaat government, which virtually patronized the radical Islamic groups as well as pro-Pak forces, and was even involved in engineering a grenade attack on an Awami League rally in 2004 to annihilate Sheikh Hasina, it must be a huge relief for all those who are opposed to Islamic radicalism and terrorism to see Sheikh Hasina return to power for a second consecutive term in 2014.



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